Another bad break for 'tough bugger' Jack Kennedy won't dim desire to get back in the saddle

Johnny Ward chats to the West Kerry native about his journey back to fitness.

Jack Kennedy has battled back from similar major setbacks in the past.
Jack Kennedy has battled back from similar major setbacks in the past.
Image: Paddy Kennedy

MOMENTS AFTER THE 20-year-old broke his leg for the fourth time, ‘Busty’ Amond rushed over to see was Jack Kennedy alright.

Busty, one of the main cogs in the Gordon Elliott operation, was not fearing what transpired. “He must be one tough bugger,” Amond recalls. “There wasn’t even a moan out of him.”

At that stage, Kennedy was not sure himself. “When I was sitting there at the start I thought it felt like a very bad dead leg, they wear off after a while but it wasn’t wearing off.

“Then the doctor asked me to straighten out my leg and I couldn’t. The doctor straightened it out then and I left a bit of a roar out of me while they were doing it.

“Once it was straightened out I got a bit of relief out of it and was still kind of thinking that it might be just dead. Then they let go of my leg and my foot just fell over to the side. Then the doctor said it was broken. It was kinda bad.”

Barely a half hour previously, Kennedy had given Delta Work a pretty flawless steer to secure the Irish Gold Cup, getting the better of Kemboy and Presenting Percy in a modern-era classic. Little time to wallow in celebration, he got the leg up on the novice, Dallas Des Pictons, in the following race on day two of the Dublin Racing Festival.

He must have been on top of the world. “I was yeah. I suppose Dallas Des Pictons had a good chance as well. I know it was his first handicap but he has ability and he had a nice enough weight. I was hoping I’d have another nice winner but it didn’t work out anyway.”

Looking back on it now, it is perplexing how Kennedy could have sustained what would be another fracture to his right femur. Dallas Des Pictons’ fall was a novicey one and relatively kind on his rider, but get tossed out of a car on a motorway and you have more than how you land to worry about.

“The fall itself was grand,” he says, relaxing at home in Kildangan, which he shares with his brother Paddy. “Whatever was coming behind me stood on my leg; that’s that did the damage.

“I was operated on the next morning. I was put in sort of a cast for the night, hard at the back, soft at the front say; then I was operated on the next morning. They put a pin down through the middle of the bone and screwed it in. I don’t need a cast now so that’s a plus I suppose.

“I was obviously disappointed but I was on that many pain killers it hadn’t sunk in properly. It was only when I got out of hospital really that things started to sink in but there’s no point getting too down about it, there’s nothing to be done.

“Everything was behind me at the time. My body was 100 per cent. I was as fit as I could be. It’s just unfortunate.

“It’s done now. If it had happened half an hour earlier… at least I got the big winner out of it.”

Kennedy had not been back at all long, enjoying a terrific Christmas at Leopardstown, when his world came crashing down again at the Dublin Racing Festival. “The poor fellow. It was shocking,” reflects Eddie O’Leary of Gigginstown, owner of Dallas Des Pictons.

One can become accustomed to hardship and Kennedy, a precocious native of Dingle and the pony circuit, has no difficulty naming the four horses he was riding for each of his leg breaks:

“The left femur was on Bobbys Diamond in Punchestown.

“The first time I did the right fibula was Shane Billy in Downpatrick.

“And the next time was Mega Fortune in Thurles.

“Then there was Dallas Des Pictons.”

Incidentally, Kennedy only ever rode Bobbys Diamond, Shane Billy and Mega Fortune once. There are many ways, it turns out, to break your leg.

“When I broke my left femur it was the horse taking a tired sort of a fall on firm ground; when my knee hit the ground my leg just snapped.

“My right fibula the first time was a kick off a horse coming behind me.

“When I rebroke it it hadn’t healed properly. When I fell and it landed, it just reopened the fracture again.

“And then there was Leopardstown.”

Kennedy’s name cropped up as much as any horse at Gordon Elliott’s Cheltenham media day on Tuesday, Elliott keen to stress how brilliant he was on Delta Work and how many more years he had ahead of him.

Lads on the bench can resent what is happening on the pitch. Riders on the sidelines can shut themselves out but Kennedy is not one of them. As Busty says, he is better off getting on with it.

Not only can he enjoy the horses that he and brother Paddy pre-train in Kildangan: he can also get up and watch the Elliott runners in action, even if it entails persistent questions about his well-being and endless thoughts about horses he should be riding.

“We bought 50 acres in Kildangan and we put in a gallop, walker and lunge ring. We are renting a yard at the top of the land. We’ve ten in at the moment and Paddy is fairly busy. That’s pre-training at the moment, in summer and at the sales all breakers.

“I enjoy the breaking more so than the pre-training, it’s nice to follow the young horses to see how they go. (In life when it comes to horses), I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.

“I’m still on the crutches but I tip around the yard at home with Paddy until the hands get tired. It’s brilliant to have it, at least I’ve something to have an interest in.

“I’ll keep going racing, keep an eye on things that are going on. It’s disappointing, I’d rather be riding, but there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s nice to follow them, see them do well; I am part of a team.”

Kennedy will be at Cheltenham, as will Delta Work, only they won’t be together. The 5/1 chance for the Gold Cup will have the assistance of Mark Walsh, something Kennedy sees as a positive.

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“I think he’ll suit him. He’s a very good rider. He won’t be lacking from the saddle anyway. Hopefully he has a great chance in the Gold Cup.

“I think he has a great chance. The extra two furlongs and the hill will really play into his hands. He seems to be getting better all the time; I wouldn’t swap him for anything.

“He’s a very placid horse. He loves an oul bit of a rub and that. He’s very friendly, a pleasure to be around.”

These are brave warriors these riders. Note the return tomorrow of David Mullins at Fairyhouse, who was very nearly paralysed for life in October.

Birdie Blitz can step up on a nice run at Gowran to take the Easter Festival 11-13 April Handicap Hurdle (3.27).

At Dundalk this evening, Kevin Manning – three decades Jack Kennedy’s senior – can steer Dance Alone to victory in the division one fo the Fundraise At Dundalk Stadium Handicap (7.30). He has a massive chance.

Jack might be unable to ride at the Cotswolds. He was planning to return for the Punchestown Festival, only for the doctor to tell him the other day it was unlikely.

“You wouldn’t know: the healing might speed up,” he says optimistically.

However, his brother Paddy will have a rare steer at Cheltenham, Tuesday’s winner Neverushacon bidding to follow up in the cross-country event.

“All going well he’ll ride him. He’ll be looking forward to that. It’s great for Paddy. I’d probably get more a kick out of Paddy riding a winner than myself: I love to see him do well.”

Brothers in arms. 

Andy Dunne and Murray Kinsella join Gavan Casey to tee you up for Sunday’s big one. The lads try to figure out where the winning and losing of the game will be, field a The42 member’s question as to what extent the media plays a role in Ireland’s performance, and Andy explains why Henry Tuilagi haunts his dreams at night.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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